Feeds

Legal wigs to sort out rules on internet defamation, contempt

The law is the law, but we only have so many courts

High performance access to file storage

In the wake of Lord McAlpine's lawyers threatening to sue thousands of Twitter users for libelling his name with false allegations of child abuse, as well as the multiple issues surrounding tweets that may be in contempt, the Attorney General has clarified that the same legal framework applies on the internet that applies offline.

Dominic Grieve QC told MPs on Wednesday, in response to a question from Labour politico Chi Onwurah, that the Law Commission was in fact reviewing contempt specifically as it relates to the internet.

He said:

An offence committed on the internet remains an offence. It is my belief that public awareness and understanding of this has been raised by a number of high profile cases and court proceedings over recent months. These have resulted in both fines and imprisonment for the offenders and have been widely reported.

The Law Commission is currently reviewing the law of contempt and will look at the issue of contempt and the internet. A public consultation will shortly commence.

Dominic Grieve QC. Pic credit: Attorney General's Office

In the meantime, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer is understood to be finalising interim guidelines on how offences involving social media and the internet should be prosecuted.

The Commission looked into issues of defamation on the internet prior to the 15 March 2011 publication of the draft Defamation bill, which is currently moving through pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament.

Starmer has urged police forces across England and Wales to approach such cases in a measured way to avoid what he said could end up being millions of trolling offences being prosecuted in courts across the land.

McAlpine's lawyers, meanwhile, are understood to be building a massive libel case against Twitter users. It's been reported that people who wrongly named the former Tory Party treasurer on the micro-blogging site are being asked to cough up cash or else face legal action.

The peer wants Twitter users with fewer than 500 followers to make a fixed donation - said to be £5 - to the BBC's Children In Need charity.

But for those people on Twitter with more than 500 followers, it has been suggested that McAlpine is seeking out-of-court settlement for larger sums of money that could amount to thousands of pounds for a stupid tweet or retweet that wrongly identified the lord of the realm as a child abuser.

His name was incorrectly linked to a child abuse case after a botched BBC2 Newsnight programme - which didn't name the peer - reported that a "senior Tory from the Thatcher years" had been accused of child abuse by north Wales care home victim Steve Messham.

Messham later said that it was a case of mistaken identity. He is still trying to track down the actual perpetrator and bring him to justice.

McAlpine has since agreed a £185,000 settlement plus costs with the BBC.

His lawyers are separately pursing a defamation payout from ITV1, after This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield haplessly waved a piece of paper containing uncorroborated names of rumoured child abusers that had been sourced from the internet in front of Prime Minister David Cameron on live television.

Sally Bercow, wife of Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, quit Twitter earlier this week, following a series of legal gaffes that included her wrongly tweeting McAlpine's name. An apparent hacking of her Twitter account appeared to have contributed to her disappearance from the site.

Guardian blogger George Monbiot and comedian Alan Davies are among the famous names also caught up in the McAlpine drama, after they too wrongly suggested on Twitter that the peer was a paedophile. Both have since apologised to McAlpine for their actions. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
Singapore decides 'three strikes' laws are too intrusive
When even a prurient island nation thinks an idea is dodgy it has problems
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Banks slap Olympus with £160 MEEELLION lawsuit
Scandal hit camera maker just can't shake off its past
France bans managers from contacting workers outside business hours
«Email? Mais non ... il est plus tard que six heures du soir!»
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.